7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The Philadelphia Campaign: Volume One: Brandywine and the Fall of Philadelphia,
This review is from: The Philadelphia Campaign: Volume One: Brandywine and the Fall of Philadelphia (Hardcover)
My wife bought me both volume one and two as a graduation present. This book was a real gem. (I will review volume two when I finish it) It has its quirks and caveats but I really enjoyed it.
The book is a compilation of primary sources so like Rebels and Redcoats it is the participants who speak rather then just the historians.
This of course can confuse the heck out of someone who lacks a general knowledge of the events. The reader must understand that each participant has a tunnel vision of their experience. This comes across quite clearly when you are reading battle accounts in this book. You will read sometimes five or six accounts of a small engagement and be baffled at the different points of view, so baffled that you may wonder if it is even the same engagement.
The historian steps in and guides you along though. The book also uses some maps drawn up by participants and this is most interesting, because the maps reflect what was known at the time.
The other bit of oddity is that the author has not changed the language, spelling, or punctuation in the snippets. Reading 18th century spelling, language, and punctuation may totally turn many readers off. I found it sometimes humorous and occasionally found it creeping into my own writing.
The book contains a glossary of 18th century military terminology in the back. Many readers will find this helpful as meanings of some words have changed since the 18th century. It also provided some interesting factoids that I was unaware of.
The book did suffer in the introduction. Though it did a very good job of covering the "Forage War" in New Jersey in the winter and spring of 1777, it provided no background to the choices and strategies taken in this "Year of the Hangman". It therefore is a great help if you already know why the choices were made and what the overall plan and intent of the various forces, especially the British, was. I must admit that I have been to virtually all of the sites associated with the Philadelphia Campaign of 1777 so I have an interest and an advantage of being able to visualize the terrain.
There are two things though which this book brings out very well. The first is all of the small engagements which occurred in the larger campaigns. Many of these fights had 100 or 200 participants and have been mostly forgotten. Here they are told, and we are better for this.
The second aspect regards the British forces. General Howe and General Cornwallis actually seem better at their jobs then history tends to give them credit for. Their use of light infantry tactics and forces went along way to making this war almost winnable for the crown forces. Had they not used light infantry tactics, even with their guards and grenadiers or large amounts of light forces, British losses may have been much higher and the war over much sooner. The notion that the British always fought European style in straight up posture, compact formations etc simply does not hold up. They fought almost as much with a bulk of their forces in the same way as the Americans did.
The British proved adaptable and capable to a larger degree then they often get credit for. An incident from The Brandywine Battle; Americans had reported seeing really large British losses when in fact the losses though heavy were not as heavy as the Americans thought. A key answer is that the British forces in the van were using light infantry tactics. They were advancing in rushes, and by crawling. To the American observer then ... he sees a large British force advancing, guns fire and the British all fall down, he assumes of course that they were felled by musketry etc. He then sees some get up an rush forward, but only a small group here and there. Understanding this makes reading period documents even more intersting.